A HARD-HEARTED WOMAN
WITH no one but her dear little Clotelle, Isabella passed her weary hours without partaking of either food or drink, hoping that Henry would soon return, and that the strange meeting with the old woman would be cleared up.
While seated in her neat little bedroom with her fevered face buried in her handkerchief, the child ran in and told its mother that a carriage had stopped in front of the house. With a palpitating heart she arose from her seat and went to the door, hoping that it was Henry; but, to her great consternation, the old lady who had paid her such an unceremonious visit on the evening that she had last seen Henry, stepped out of the carriage, accompanied by the slave-trader, Jennings.
Isabella had seen the trader when he purchased her mother and sister, and immediately recognized him. What could these persons want there? thought she. Without any parleying or word of explanation, the two entered the house, leaving the carriage in charge of a servant.
Clotelle ran to her mother, and clung to her dress as if frightened by the strangers.
"She's a fine-looking wench," said the speculator, as he seated himself, unasked, in the rocking-chair; "yet I don't think she is worth the money you ask for her."
"What do you want here?" inquired Isabella, with a quivering voice.
"None of your insolence to me," bawled out the old woman, at the top of her voice; "if you do, I will give you what you deserve so much, my lady,--a good whipping."
In an agony of grief, pale, trembling, and ready to sink to the floor, Isabella was only sustained by the hope that she would be able to save her child. At last, regaining her self-possession, she ordered them both to leave the house. Feeling herself insulted, the old woman seized the tongs that stood by the fire-place, and raised them to strike the quadroon down; but the slave-trader immediately jumped between the women, exclaiming,--
"I won't buy her, Mrs. Miller, if you injure her."
Poor little Clotelle screamed as she saw the strange woman raise the tongs at her mother. With the exception of old Aunt Nancy, a free colored woman, whom Isabella sometimes employed to work for her, the child had never before seen a strange face in her mother's dwelling. Fearing that Isabella would offer some resistance, Mrs. Miller had ordered the overseer of her own farm to follow her; and, just as Jennings had stepped between the two women, Mull, the negro-driver, walked into the room.
"Seize that impudent hussy," said Mrs. Miller to the overseer, "and tie her up this minute, that I may teach her a lesson she won't forget in a hurry."
As she spoke, the old woman's eyes rolled, her lips quivered, and she looked like a very fury.
"I will have nothing to do with her, if you whip her, Mrs. Miller," said the slave-trader. "Niggers ain't worth half so much in the market with their backs newly scarred," continued he, as the overseer commenced his preparations for executing Mrs. Miller's orders.
Clotelle here took her father's walking-stick, which was lying on the back of the sofa where he had left it, and, raising it, said,--
"If you bad people touch my mother, I will strike you."
They looked at the child with astonishment; and her extreme you, wonderful beauty, and uncommon courage, seemed for a moment to shake their purpose. The manner and language of this child were alike beyond her years, and under other circumstances would have gained for her the approbation of those present.
"Oh, Henry, Henry!" exclaimed Isabella, wringing her hands.
"You need not call on him, hussy; you will never see him again," said Mrs. Miller.
"What! is he dead?" inquired the heart-stricken woman.
It was then that she forgot her own situation, thinking only of the man she loved. Never having been called to endure any kind of abusive treatment, Isabella was not fitted to sustain herself against the brutality of Mrs. Miller, much less the combined ferociousness of the old woman and the overseer too. Suffice it to say, that instead of whipping Isabella, Mrs. Miller transferred her to the negro-speculator, who took her immediately to his slave-pen. The unfeeling old woman would not permit Isabella to take more than a single change of her clothing, remarking to Jennings,--
"I sold you the wench, you know,--not her clothes."
The injured, friendless, and unprotected Isabella fainted as she saw her child struggling to release herself from the arms of old Mrs. Miller, and as the wretch boxed the poor child's ears.
After leaving directions as to how Isabella's furniture and other effects should be disposed of, Mrs. Miller took Clotelle into her carriage and drove home. There was not even color enough about the child to make it appear that a single drop of African blood flowed through its blue veins.
Considerable sensation was created in the kitchen among the servants when the carriage drove up, and Clotelle entered the house.
"Jes' like Massa Henry fur all de worl'," said Dinah, as she caught a glimpse of the child through the window.
"Wondah whose brat dat ar' dat missis bringin' home wid her?" said Jane, as she put the ice in the pitchers for dinner. "I warrant it's some poor white nigger somebody bin givin' her."
The child was white. What should be done to make it look like other negroes, was the question which Mrs. Miller asked herself. The callous-hearted old woman bit her nether lip, as she viewed that child, standing before her, with her long, dark ringlets clustering over her alabaster brow and neck.
"Take this little nigger and cut her hair close to her head," said the mistress to Jane, as the latter answered the bell.
Clotelle screamed, as she felt the scissors grating over her head, and saw those curls that her mother thought so much of falling upon the floor.
A roar of laughter burst from the servants, as Jane led the child through the kitchen, with the hair cut so short that the naked scalp could be plainly seen.
"'Gins to look like nigger, now," said Dinah, with her mouth upon a grin.
The mistress smiled, as the shorn child reentered the room; but there was something more needed. The child was white, and that was a great objection. However, she hit upon a plan to remedy this which seemed feasible. The day was excessively warm. Not a single cloud floated over the blue vault of heaven; not a breath of wind seemed moving, and the earth was parched by the broiling sun. Even the bees had stopped humming, and the butterflies had hid themselves under the broad leaves of the burdock. Without a morsel of dinner, the poor child was put in the garden, and set to weeding it, her arms, neck, and head completely bare. Unaccustomed to toil, Clotelle wept as she exerted herself in pulling up the weeds. Old Dinah, the cook, was a unfeeling as her mistress, and she was pleased to see the child made to work in the hot sun.
"Dat white nigger'll soon be brack enuff if missis keeps her workin' out dar," she said, as she wiped the perspiration from her sooty brow.
Dinah was the mother of thirteen children, all of whom bad been taken from her when young; and this, no doubt, did much to harden her feelings, and make her hate all white persons.
The burning sun poured its rays on the face of the friendless child until she sank down in the corner of the garden, and was actually broiled to sleep.
"Dat little nigger ain't workin' a bit, missus," said Dinah to Mrs. Miller, as the latter entered the kitchen.
"She's lying in the sun seasoning; she will work the better by and by," replied the mistress.
"Dese white niggers always tink dey seff good as white folks," said the cook.
"Yes; but we will teach them better, won't we, Dinah?" rejoined Mrs. Miller.
"Yes, missus," replied Dinah; "I don't like dese merlatter niggers, no how. Dey always want to set dey seff up for sumfin' big." With this remark the old cook gave one of her coarse laughs, and continued: "Missis understands human nature, don't she? Ah! if she ain't a whole team and de ole gray mare to boot, den Dinah don't know nuffin'."
Of course, the mistress was out of the kitchen before these last remarks were made.
It was with the deepest humiliation that Henry learned from one of his own slaves the treatment which his child was receiving at the hands of his relentless mother-in-law.
The scorching sun had the desired effect; for in less than a fortnight, Clotelle could scarcely have been recognized as the same child. Often was she seen to weep, and heard to call on her mother.
Mrs. Miller, when at church on Sabbath, usually, on warm days, took Nancy, one of her servants, in her pew, and this girl had to fan her mistress during service. Unaccustomed to such a soft and pleasant seat, the servant would very soon become sleepy and begin to nod. Sometimes she would go fast asleep, which annoyed the mistress exceedingly. But Mrs. Miller had nimble fingers, and on them sharp nails, and, with an energetic pinch upon the bare arms of the poor girl, she would arouse the daughter of Africa from her pleasant dreams. But there was no one of Mrs. Miller's servants who received so much punishment as old Uncle Tony.
Fond of her greenhouse, and often in the garden, she was ever at the old gardener's heels. Uncle Tony was very religious, and, whenever his mistress flogged him, he invariably gave her a religious exhortation. Although unable to read, he, nevertheless, had on his tongue's end portions of Scripture which he could use at any moment. In one end of the greenhouse was Uncle Tony's sleeping room, and those who happened in that vicinity, between nine and ten at night, could hear the old man offering up his thanksgiving to God for his protection during the day. Uncle Tony, however, took great pride, when he thought that any of the whites were within hearing, to dwell, in his prayer, on his own goodness and the unfitness of others to die. Often was he heard to say, "O Lord, thou knowest that the white folks are not Christians, but the black people are God's own children." But if Tony thought that his old mistress was within the sound of his voice, he launched out into deeper water.
It was, therefore, on a sweet night, when the bright stars were looking out with a joyous sheen, that Mark and two of the other boys passed the greenhouse, and heard Uncle Tony in his devotions.
"Let's have a little fun," said the mischievous Marcus to his young companions. "I will make Uncle Tony believe that I am old mistress, and he'll give us an extra touch in his prayer."
Mark immediately commenced talking in a strain of voice resembling, as well as he could, Mrs. Miller, and at once Tony was heard to say in a loud voice, "O Lord, thou knowest that the white people are not fit to die; but, as for old Tony, whenever the angel of the Lord comes, he's ready."
At that moment, Mark tapped lightly on the door.
"Who's dar?" thundered old Tony.
Mark made no reply. The old man commenced and went through with the same remarks addressed to the Lord, when Mark again knocked at the door.
"Who dat dar?" asked Uncle Tony, with a somewhat agitated countenance and trembling voice.
Still Mark would not reply.
Again Tony took up the thread of his discourse, and said, "O Lord, thou knowest as well as I do that dese white folks are not prepared to die, but here is old Tony, when de angel of de Lord comes, he's ready to go to heaven."
Mark once more knocked on the door.
"Who dat dar?" thundered Tony at the top of his voice.
"De angel of de Lord," replied Mark, in a somewhat suppressed and sepulchral voice.
"What de angel of de Lord want here?" inquired Tony, as if much frightened.
"He's come for poor old Tony, to take him out of the world," replied Mark, in the same strange voice.
"Dat nigger ain't here; he die tree weeks ago," responded Tony, in a still more agitated and frightened tone. Mark and his companions made the welkin ring with their shouts at the old man's answer. Uncle Tony hearing them, and finding that he had been imposed upon, opened his door, came out with stick in hand, and said, "Is dat you, Mr. Mark? you imp, if I can get to you I'll larn you how to come here wid your nonsense."
Mark and his companions left the garden, feeling satisfied that Uncle Tony was not as ready to go with "de angel of de Lord" as he would have others believe.